Deborah Virgiles used hamburgers to build a healthy community. Sick children, the homeless, the young employees and the community groups close to her two McDonald’s restaurants have counted on her as a friend and advocate.
Virgiles, 60, died at home April 27 leaving her legacy to daughter, Dominique, to carry on her business and her mission. She owned and operated one McDonald’s in Midtown and another in Rosedale Park. She also served as president of the Ronald McDonald House, a low-cost guest lodge for terminally ill children and their families in the Detroit Medical Center.
“There is such a huge hole in the heart of the Ronald McDonald House,” says Jennifer Litomisky, executive director, who counted on Virgiles as her top fundraiser, board president and motivator among the other McDonald’s owner-operators.
Virgiles led the campaign to raise $3 million to move the house from a 16,000- square-foot building next to Children’s Hospital of Michigan in the Medical Center to an expanded structure inside the old Hutzel Hospital. The new 26,000-square-foot location has more room to house families of children undergoing treatment at Children’s.
“She led countless hours of meetings and kept the board together with the main and only goal – to build a new, world-class Ronald McDonald House of Detroit,” Litomisky says.
Virgiles achieved most of the goal in less than two years.
Her generosity extended beyond bricks and mortar.
“For so many years Deb sent over many meals for families that could not afford to cook their own or on the rare occasion when meals were not prepared. She also provided meals for events and meetings at the House,” Litomisky says.
Her daughter, Dominique, also volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House, serving on its junior council. Litomisky hopes she will follow in her mother’s footsteps and become its chief fundraiser.
Virgiles also was a champion of the homeless and her community.
Friends who visited her Midtown store knew she would allow the homeless, who glided up and down Woodward Avenue, to change clothes in the restroom. She would sometimes offer those folks a hot cup of coffee and send them on their way.
“When Deb first got the Midtown McDonald’s she would contribute refreshments to cleanups and other events,” says Leslie Malcolmson, a board member of the Midtown Alliance. “Once she got involved in the Ronald McDonald House she moved her focus there. She sent me a gazillion emails about her fundraising which I was glad to distribute to my list.”
Her legacy also lives on in the world of McDonald owner-operators. Virgiles was a McDonald’s employee for 22 years when she was offered the opportunity to buy her own store, putting on the way to realize her dream of owning a pair of the Golden Arches.
In the last few years her daughter Dominique began working as supervisor at her mother’s two restaurant locations.
Just last month Virgiles received the “Thank You” award recognizing Detroit neighborhood small business owners. The plaque read, “We value and recognize your investment, commitment and dedication to the communities and customers served in the City of Detroit.”
She also received a Spirit of Detroit award from the Detroit City Council in “recognition of exceptional achievement, outstanding leadership and dedication to improving the quality of life.”
Virgiles is survived by her daughter and 11 siblings including Patricia Simmons, Shandra Childs-Thomas, Rev. Johnnie Green, Dorothy Capers, Katrina Goldsmith, Reginald Green, Derrick Green, Valeria Gomez, Vanessa Jordan and Richard Green.
Visitation will be held Thursday, May 5 from 4 – 8 p.m. at O.H. Pye, III, Funeral Home at 17600 Plymouth Road in Detroit. The funeral will be held at Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church at 2080 W. Grand Boulevard in Detroit at 11 a.m. Friday, May 6 following a family hour.
Virgiles told B.L.A.C. magazine she was proud of her lifetime achievements. “Ultimately, I feel like my heart has reached its goal. Knowing that I have touched the lives of so many kids and employees, it takes me to a different level.”
Thank you, Deb, for taking us all to a higher level through your inspiration and hard work.